Chapter 3 pt. 2


Buffy felt as if time had stopped as she stared blankly at her mother, trying to absorb what Joyce had just said. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle as to why Angel left her was in place. Suddenly realizing what she'd just said, Joyce's eyes widened in shock. She took a step towards Buffy, reaching a hand out to touch her arm. Buffy stepped away with a jerk, hands curling into fists at her sides. Giles rose slowly, staring at his Slayer in concern, but Buffy waved him away, indicating she was still in control. She opened her mouth several times, trying to find the words, but stopped her self every time she felt the screams welling up from her soul. When she could finally bring herself to speak, Buffy's voice was tight, angry, and barely under control.

"First of all, Riley and I got along because I kept him in the dark. He didn't know me at all. And don't *even* start with what Angel can or cannot give me. What I want to know, is what the hell gave you the idea it was OK for you to interfere in my life. How could you 'suggest' to Angel that he should leave me?! Do you have any idea what that must have done to him, what it did to me? I know I'm your daughter, and you love me. I know you want what's best for me, but it's my life not yours. I have to make my own decisions, and my own mistakes. *I* decide what's best for me not you, not Giles, and not Angel. Me. And *Angel* is what's best for me. Because no one will ever understand me better, or love me more, than Angel does."

"I won't accept that! I do not want that creature in my house again, and I will not support this decision!"

"So what else is new?" Buffy muttered under her breath, wishing that, just once, her mother would trust her to make her own decisions. "I guess it's a good thing I won't be living with you then," she said aloud. "I'm moving back to Sunnydale, but I'm not moving back in with you. Erin and I will live in Angel's mansion."

Once again silence descended as Joyce stared at her daughter in shock. Buffy braced herself emotionally when Joyce opened her mouth to respond. "You're going to move in with a monster?! That, in itself, is bad enough, but you're right, it is *your* life. But, I can't *believe* you're going to risk Erin's life by taking her to live with a demon." Apparently, she hadn't braced herself enough, as fierce pain rippled through Buffy. Joyce's voice was cold and unforgiving; one Buffy hadn't heard since she'd been told not to come back if she left to face Angelus. The memories of the morning she'd sent her Angel to Hell, along with the tone and statement washed the hurt away with a towering rage.

"How dare you," she hissed, keeping a careful eye on the still sleeping Erin. "How dare you suggest that I would *ever* deliberately endanger my daughter. I know you don't like Angel; you've made it abundantly clear that you don't trust him. But, you should at least trust me to protect Erin. I know that I've made mistakes in the past, and that my judgment hasn't always been the best where Angel's concerned, but Erin is the most important person in the world to me. God, Angel and I might not even be able to work things out, but if we do that doesn't mean we're going to take chances with his soul. And if, God forbid, the worst happens, I will do what ever it takes to keep Angelus from hurting Erin, or Giles, or anyone else. Even if it means, I have to kill him. Again."

"Why don't we ask Mr. Giles if he believes that?" Joyce snapped before realizing what she was saying. Across the room, even Giles was stunned by the viciousness of the attack, and stood once more, watching Buffy with concern.

Buffy recoiled as if slapped, anguish clear in her eyes. Giles had never, even though he had more reason to than anyone, thrown Jenny's death at her like that; Buffy couldn't believe that her own mother had. Quivering with hurt and anger, Buffy managed to choke out, "I cannot believe you said that, with Giles right here no less. I *know* what I did, and what the cost was. How can you think I don't feel the weight of every death Angelus caused?"

"You took him back, forgave him, with no explanations. What does that say about you where he's concerned?" came the quiet reply. Joyce's eyes were shocked, as if she couldn't believe what was coming out of her mouth, but her jaw was set, as if she was determined to have this out once and for all.

"I couldn't explain when he came back, I was still hurt and confused and scared. And when I was ready to explain, you didn't want to listen. You had already made up your mind about Angel and our relationship. So what does that say about you, and your faith in me, Mom?" With that, Buffy turned and stalked into her bedroom, being careful not to slam the door behind her, because of Erin. She fought back tears of anger and hurt, wrapping her arms around herself in an effort to calm down. "You knew she wouldn't like this!" she reminded herself fiercely. Buffy darted a quick glance at the door leading back to the suite's living area, reminding herself that Erin was dozing on a love seat, and she really didn't need to be roused by her mother throwing things at the wall.

Buffy paced angrily for several minutes, fruitlessly trying to remember that Christmas was a season of goodwill, forgiveness, and peace. Still, the urge to pummel was severe, and if she didn't get out of the suite soon, she might use that energy on her mother. She noticed with relief that it was late enough to do an early sweep of nearby streets, so she swiftly changed into cold weather slaying gear, stuffing a small backpack with stakes, crosses, and holy water. After a moment of thought, she added a few daggers in sheaths; vampire Slayer she may be, but she never knew what kind of night creature she might encounter, demon or human. It was best to be prepared.

Steeling herself to again face her mother's disapproval, Buffy opened the door to her bedroom. "Buffy, I really think..." Joyce started, only to be silenced by the angry look Buffy shot in her direction. Buffy was in no mood to deal with her mother's continual refusal to listen, and the unprovoked attack on her abilities as a mother had cut deeply. There would be no more 'discussion' until Buffy had expended the urge to kill on the local vampire population.

"I'm going on patrol," Buffy stated quietly, but firmly, leaving no room for argument, but keeping her tone even so she didn't upset her daughter. As she caught Giles' quick glance from her to the clock and back, Buffy grimaced. "I know, it's early. I'll just do a quick swing near the parks and restaurants. I've got to blow off some steam, but I'll be back to tuck Erin in. Say...An hour?" Relieved that Giles didn't seem inclined to argue, Buffy ignored her mother's smoldering glare. Joyce resented that she could use slaying as an excuse to avoid arguments, but she also didn't understand how badly Buffy could accidentally hurt her if she lost control of her temper, and Buffy just didn't have the patience to explain that hunting was a good idea. Instead, she turned to Erin; who had roused a little from her place on the sofa.

"Mama?" Erin asked sleepily. Seeing her mother in slaying gear, and taking note of the deep darkness outside, Erin sensed bath time rapidly approaching, and promptly took steps to delay it. The three-year old forced her eyes wide, and quickly picked up her baby doll, determined to stall. "No bath," she stated firmly, eying Buffy warily. "I'm playing with Grammy," Erin explained, moving quickly to show Joyce her doll.

"OK Sweetheart," Buffy agreed, going to crouch before her daughter. "You can have a little more play time. Introduce Kelly to Grammy. But..." Buffy frowned fiercely at Erin, a playful growl escaping her throat. "You have to let Grammy or Papa get you ready for bed in an hour, no arguing. I'm going out for a little while, but I'll be back in time to tuck you in."

Erin stared up at her mother thoughtfully, then slid a quick glance to her grandmother. The three-year old didn't exactly understand what was wrong, but she could feel the tension in the air. "Grammy give me a bath?" she questioned, not sure if she liked the idea. Though she had enjoyed playing with Joyce, Erin didn't like to have her routine disrupted.

"Of course darling," Joyce answered cheerfully. "We'll play for a bit, and have a bath, and get ready for bed. Then I'll read you a story until Mommy gets back."

"No!" Suddenly, Erin's eyes were wide, tears welling. She turned to Buffy, and cried, "Mommy tell me a story! You promised! An Angel story!"

Buffy started to shift uncomfortably, not looking forward to this explanation. Her mother was trying to reassure Erin that she was a very good story teller, but Erin was refusing to listen. Buffy wanted to avoid a full blown temper tantrum, and decided it would be easier to have another argument with her mother upon her return then it would be to calm Erin, so she interrupted. "Mom, it's OK. Erin's right. I promised her an Angel story, so I'll be back in time to tell her one." At Buffy's words, Erin started to calm down, and settled back on the sofa next to Joyce.

"OK now Erin?" Buffy questioned. Usually, she didn't let Erin get away with throwing a fit, but she *had* promised a story, and she tried to never break her word to Erin. And, Buffy didn't have the patience to deal with Erin effectively, especially since her body was still humming with the anger and hurt she felt towards Joyce. Buffy settled for a scolding. "First, you have to tell Grammy you're sorry for yelling. She tells good stories too. They're just different form my stories."

Erin dutifully scrambled to her feet and landed a smacking kiss on Joyce's cheek. "Sorry Grammy. You can read me tomorrow, OK? Do you know Angel stories?"

Buffy moved to pick up Erin before her mother started asking questions about 'Angel stories,' and why Erin had nearly thrown a fit over one. "I'm going out now Sweetie," Buffy murmured softly, cuddling her baby close. "You be good for Grammy, no screaming about bath time. If you're a good girl, maybe I'll come up with a new story for tonight."

Erin's eyes widened in delight. Her mother's Angel stories were Erin's favorites; treats for special occasions. Erin had her favorite stories that she asked for; she was fascinated with the edited stories Buffy told her of her old adventures with Angel. Even better than Angel stories, were *new* Angel stories. Buffy used the stories to familiarize her daughter with the vampire she still loved, thinking of her hopes for the future, as a way to pull out her memories for her own sake. "Really?" Erin whispered, leaning closer. "A new Angel story?" At her mother's nod, Erin squealed with glee.

Buffy smiled at Erin, and set her down, preparing for their good bye ritual. Sometimes Buffy worried that she shouldn't have told Erin anything about the slaying that she'd put too much pressure on Erin to keep the secret. Giles assured her, however, that Erin loved keeping secrets, and that she didn't really understand what Buffy was truly facing out in the dark, or how dangerous it was. And, he reminded her, Erin needed to be drilled on opening doors to strangers, and being safe outside at night so that it became second nature. So, Buffy had created a little game to teach Erin about what was needed to protect herself, as well as giving her an opportunity to be involved, however slightly, in her mother's vocation. "OK, little one," Buffy said firmly, kneeling in front of Erin. "Time for me to go."

"OK Mommy," Erin said, standing strait, glancing at Giles for support. He nodded at her, indicating it was all right with him for Buffy to go, and started her checklist. "Cross?" she demanded, eyes dancing happily, nodding her head in approval when Buffy fingered the crucifix dangling over the collar of her wind breaker. "Mr. Pointy?" Erin giggled at the name as Buffy dutifully showed her a stake before sliding it up one of her sleeves. "Phone?" Buffy smacked her forehead in disbelief, and scrambled to where her cell phone was recharging, as Erin dashed to Giles and let him whisper in her ear. The phone was now an important part of Buffy's equipment, as it allowed her to call for help. She'd gotten into trouble and not had the phone with her, resulting in a brief hospital stay about a year ago. Ever since, every time she forgot the phone, Erin got to punish her with something. Buffy returned, eyes down cast, to where Erin was standing imperiously next to the door, though a smile played on Buffy's lips. Erin tapped her foot and shook her finger at Buffy. "Mommy! One hour of research!" Erin loved the occasional opportunity to get back at her mom, and she thought the way Buffy moaned and complained about researching was hilarious. Buffy glared playfully at her Watcher, knowing that had been his idea, before nodding at Erin. "Now, Kiss!" Erin giggled, getting to the last step of the ritual.

Buffy swept Erin up for a tight hug, and smothered her with swift kisses. "I love you little one. Always," She whispered. The kiss, cuddle and whispered reassurance had been apart of Buffy's slaying routine since her first patrol after Erin's birth, and the one part she never skipped. Buffy was all too aware that each time she left to patrol, it could be the last time she held her daughter.

"Love you Mommy," was Erin's cheerful reply. Buffy stepped back and saluted smartly, and Erin returned the salute with a laugh. Buffy swept up her backpack, nodded to her mother and Watcher, and swept out into the cold December air, the thrill of the hunt singing through her veins.